Finding Grant Wood

American Gothic

I tried my best to stay in keeping with the stern look of Grant Wood's figures, which were actually his sister Nan and his dentist.

It was on a trip to Mount Vernon, Iowa for Rick’s high school reunion that I kept stumbling into Grant Wood, Iowa’s favorite native son. It started at the Art Institute of Chicago and seeing his “American Gothic”. I always love seeing very famous paintings in person. One of the other treats was seeing Georges Seurat’s “Saturday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”. I had no idea it was such a large painting. The museum as a whole was wonderful. It’s collection of Impressionist paintings was inspiring. The collection of American paintings was also striking. It was fun to see Thomas Cole’s paintings of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in Chicago. It was also a reminder that I need to get back up there to paint. All in all going through the museum, I was glad I had brought my paints on the trip even though I wasn’t sure when I’d have a chance to use them.

The rolling hills in Iowa with barns perched on top of them and nestled in valleys was much more scenic than I had remembered from a previou trip 15 years ago. Following the rows of corn as they traversed the hills gave the countryside a sense of endless plenty. But we were there for the class reunion and there were old friends to see, so I sat back waiting for my turn, hoping I could get to my paints soon.

We arrived Friday afternoon and that night Rick and his friends from high school put their band back together and played at a local lounge, which was owned by another classmate. The real fun twist was that Rick’s grandfather use to own the place many years ago. It was a great time with other classmates stopping by to enjoy the music. Saturday morning was breakfast at the high school and another opportunity to see more old friends from other classes. After that, it was time to get some painting in. I wasn’t sure where we would go but when we got back to the hotel to change clothes we mentioned our plans to Dennis (classmate) and Donna who were also staying there. “Go to Stone City!” Dennis told us it would be a great place to paint and there was a great restaurant there called the General Store. So it was decided and we were all set to go in no time.

Barbara painting "Grant Wood's Tree"

It was a beautiful day, a bit warm but sunny. We had lunch and went driving to look for a place to paint. There were stone buildings everywhere that I wanted to paint. There was an information area we pulled into to read up on the area. As it turns out, Grant Wood had helped establish an art colony which ran during the summers of 1932 and 1933. A stone throw away was a beautiful stone church which I intend on painting soon from pictures. But then we wanted to drive around a little more first. We pulled off the main road and drove up a hill. One the way back down, I saw what I wanted to paint. In fact, I could see a couple of paintings once I got out of the car.  Besides the rolling hills, which had been at the top of my list there were several head of cattle standing under the trees in the shade.

"Grant Wood's Tree", 11" x 14", oil on panel

After a couple of sketches I decided to focus on the hills and barns. I wanted to paint the cattle, but with them moving around and all huddled together in a black mass, I decided that would be a studio painting. Chatting with Rick about the sketch I decided to go with, I told him I liked the tree in the middle that was separate from the others. It would add a little more interest. Well into my painting, the farmer pulled up on his four wheeler, his daughter in the passenger seat. He’d been out counting how many new calves had been born that day. Then he said, “Grant Wood use to paint under that tree.” I was really beginning to feel like I was chasing the ghost of Grant Wood, without even trying.

Driving back to our hotel to get ready for the evening’s activities I decided my next blog posting would be about Grant Wood and before I left Iowa, I wanted to know more about him. So instead of driving to St. Louis to see relatives, first thing the next morning, a side trip to Cedar Rapids was in order.

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